The UN agencies said on Tuesday that they regretted Israel’s announcemnet that six Palestinian civil society groups previously designated as “terrorist” organisations can no longer legally operate in the occupied West Bank.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the UN agencies said they regretted the decision, made on 7 November by the Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, saying it represents “a further erosion of civic and humanitarian space”.
Israeli War Ministry on 19 October 2021 issued a military order declaring six Palestinian civil society organizations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to be “terrorist organizations.”
The Israeli War Minister office claimed that the six groups were “part of a network of organisations operating undercover in the international arena” on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist Palestinian resistance group, which was listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in 1997 by the US State Department.
The groups are Addameer, al-Haq, Defense for Children Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Bisan Center for Research and Development and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees.
The designation, made pursuant to a 2016 Israeli statute, effectively outlaws the activities of these civil society groups.
It authorizes Israeli occupation authorities to close their offices, seize their assets and arrest and jail their staff members, and it prohibits funding or even publicly expressing support for their activities.
On November 7, the Israeli forces announced that the War Ministry’s designation had been implemented after occupied West Bank Army Chief Yehuda Fox signed an order declaring the six groups “illegal” claiming they were “part” of the PFLP and “endanger the State of Israel”.
The UN agencies said they believe the move “stands to significantly constrain the work” of these NGOs, which have worked with the international community, including the UN, for decades, providing essential services to countless Palestinians.
In a statement, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the OPT, Lynn Hastings, said “these allegations are taken very seriously.”
According to her, however, none of the UN agencies, nor AIDA, have received written documentation which could serve as a basis for these allegations.
“We will continue to engage with all relevant partners for more information”, Mrs. Hastings explained.
For the UN agencies, “the breadth of the Israeli 2016 Anti-Terrorism legislation and its impact on the presumption of innocence, present serious concerns under international law.”
“With our strong commitment to the indispensable role of civil society in democratic life and in finding peaceful solutions to conflict, many of us work with, and some financially support, these organizations”, the statement read.
The agencies said that past allegations of misuse of funds by Palestinian civil society organization partners have not been substantiated.
“We will continue to stand by international law and civil society organizations that promote international humanitarian law, human rights and democratic values”, the agencies concluded.
At the end of October, independent UN human rights experts called the initial decision “a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere.”
The US State Department said that it would seek clarification from Israel after it declared the six Palestinian groups as terrorist organisations, noting that Washington was not warned of the move.
“We’ll be engaging our Israelis partners for more information regarding the basis for these designations,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a press briefing with reporters.
Later, a representative from Israel’s internal intelligence agency, Shin Bet, tasked with briefing U.S. Congress headed to the United States to justify the six groups being outlawed.
Israeli Haaretz said the representative presented evidence on an unrelated organization.
According to the Israeli newspaper, the 74-page document had previously been presented to European diplomats in May in an attempt to convince them to stop funding the organizations.
Sources who were shown it at the time said it did not convince them.
According to sources, Haaretz said, additional evidence was presented to the U.S. State Department and other officials with higher security clearances.
The Shin Bet’s document quotes one of them linking PFLP to Addameer, Al-Haq, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Centre for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and Defence for Children International – Palestine.
“The institutions belonging to the Popular Front are related to one another and are the organisations’ lifeblood economically and organisationally. In other words, laundering money and funding the operations of the Popular Front,” Haaretz reported, citing the document.
Some Israeli analysts concluded the Shin Bet’s document does not offer concrete proof that the six human rights NGOs were used as a front for the PFLP.
Israel’s decision sparked a swift backlash around the globe, with the EU, US Jewish NGOs, progressive Democrats, and international human rights organizations expressing criticism.